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Gophers better because of Whalen's injury

4/3/2004

NORFOLK, Va. -- Minnesota survived nearly six weeks without
Lindsay Whalen.

Although the times were difficult as Whalen sat out with two
broken bones in her shooting hand, coach Pam Borton knows playing
without her star guard helped the Golden Gophers make program
history.

"They said when Lindsay broke her hand that things happen for a
reason," Borton said. "I was waiting 5 1/2 weeks to figure out what
that reason was. Now, I've figured it out, and it's made us a
better team."

Minnesota (25-8) certainly is one of the best in the land these
days, after beating top-seeded Duke 82-75 Tuesday night in the
Mideast Regional final to advance to its first Final Four.

The seventh-seeded Gophers -- who play two-time defending
national champion Connecticut on Sunday -- are the third-highest
seed to advance to a women's Final Four, and Borton said the injury
to Whalen made it all possible.

"We've had some people on this team really step up and produce
big for us on both ends of the floor," Borton said. "I think
Janel McCarville came into herself, Shannon Schonrock became a
better leader and Shannon Bolden and Kadidja Andersson became more
of an offensive threat for us.

"They're still playing the same roles, and now with Lindsay
back in the lineup, it's made us a better team," she said.

Minnesota went 3-4 without Whalen but her return has sparked the
Gophers. And they were never better than Tuesday night.

They got huge performances from Whalen and McCarville and key
contributions from most everyone else in ending Duke's bid for a
third straight Final Four berth.

Whalen was the catalyst for a full-throttle offense and finished
with 27 points, while McCarville was a force inside, scoring 20 and
grabbing 18 rebounds.

Even more than numbers, both brought attitude that proved
critical when Duke tried to take over the game.

"Lindsay was the ring leader in the timeouts," Borton said.
"You could just tell she was not going to let her team lose this
game."

After a 10-2 run by Duke made it 44-42 in the second half,
Whalen was sneering on the left wing when she suddenly whipped a
no-look pass to McCarville under the basket, her layup doubling the
margin.

And later, after Duke closed to 57-55 with 8:19 left, Whalen
drove down the lane, spinning away from a defender for an easy
layup, the whirling dervish move drawing "oohs" and "aahs" from
the sellout crowd.

And finally, there was McCarville, with her back to the basket,
dropping a perfect feed to a streaking Whalen behind her for a
layup.

McCarville had a team-high six assists.

But there were many key players.

Bolden, who will guard UConn star Diana Taurasi, held three-time
All-American Alana Beard to 10 points, and scored 10 herself,
including a 3-pointer after Duke tied it at 59.

Andersson scored 17, often filling in for the foul-plagued
McCarville down low and hitting key shots against Duke's taller
defenders. Minnesota will need the same all-around intensity if the
Gophers hope to have a chance against UConn, one of the most
dominant teams in women's college basketball.

"Would we be sitting here if Lindsay didn't break her hand? I
don't know," Borton said. "I don't know if other kids on the team
would've stepped up and proved their roles."

With few expectations from almost everyone because of the way
they ended the season, the Gophers were supposed to be long since
out of the NCAA field.

But as the final seconds ticked off against Duke, they rejoiced,
novices in their fourth NCAA tournament appearance, but loving it
all.

"Coach has always talked about how we have to act like we've
been there before and walk with a lot of class," McCarville said.
"Well, we ain't never been there before. We finally got a chance
to celebrate."